Home and Society. Nursery Decoration and Hygiene.

Scribners monthly 3, 1881

"My idea of a model nursery," said a fine lady, not long ago, "is a padded room, with barred windows, and everything in it, when not in use, hung out of reach upon the walls. Then, one might sit down-stairs in the drawing-room, and read, or practice, or receive, with a mind at rest." But what of the melancholy little starlings caged above, piping their woful plaint, "I can't get out"? And, in many cases, it is no wonder they should want to get out.

To the nursery are generally consigned, year after year, all the faded fineries from down-stairs, the worn carpets, the slightly soiled chintz, the decrepit tables and chairs. It is a Hõtel des Invalides for retired furniture. This, of course, does not apply to the first nursery, fitted up with floating draperies of pink and blue, with fine embroidery and cobweb lace, with costly cradle and dainty basket, for the installation of that unparalleled wonder — His Serene Highness, Baby Number One — with a prime minister in attendance, to whom all this magnificence appears but dross, whose manner is of the mildly endunng sort, as becomes one who has been used to better things, but, in spite of all, condescends to exalt, with her presence, for a space, these humble scenes!

During a little white Baby reclines at ease amid his princely surroundings, but, by and by, when abandoned by his prime minister, the natural self-assertion of man takes possession of him. He kicks over the bassinet, rends his filmy envelope of silk and lawn, makes ducks and drakes of the interior of his dressingbasket, sets the ivory brushes afloat in his bath-tub, and cuts his teeth upon any object within reach, other than the coral and bells provided for the purpose by an infatuated godfather.

Then, at last, does an indignant and long-suffering household turn upon this aggressive ruler, and send him into banishment. An usurper sits upon his throne, who is, in turn, displaced, and goes to join his hapless comrade condemned to hard labor in the thirdstory Siberia; and so until the ranks are full, till the pink and blue has faded out of the draperies, and a new baby has ceased to be a wonder.

To redress the wrongs of these little exiles, in the matter of brightening their place of retirement, is a task outside the limit of any society as yet organized in behalf of injured innocence, but none the less is a worthy and important one.

We enter the average nursery to find it, perhaps, darkened by heavy moreen curtains of a style conspelling their retirement from any of the modernized rooms down-stairs; with a velvet or Brussels carpet with halfeffaced pattern of lilies and roses, long since trodden into dingy uniformity of tint, and a rug of another color that, as they say in France, swears at all the rest. The paper upon the soiled by fingermarks, has a pattern of green and yellow stripes. The furniture is cumbrous and shabby; the fire hidden from sight by an iron guard, where draperies forever hang. Homely articles of wearing apparel depend from door and chair-backs; combs and brushes mingle with medicine bottles and spoons, upon the dressing bureau. If the nurse rallies, in a frantic attempt to put things to rights, her idea, generally, is to dear the floor of blocks and toys, and rigidly taboo their re-appearance — bidding the children amuse themselves, very much as Miss Havisham solemnly exhorted poor Pip to play, when he, looking about vainly for the ways and means thereto, conceived a vague idea of turning somersaults! Over all, there is a tenementhouse air that can hardly be realized by the visitor who has ascended, by slow degrees, through every stage of a beautifully decorated home.

This, not so common as of old, will be, in a short time, I hope, only the exception to the rule. There are sundry conditions leading to reform that cannot be too strongly enforced. It seems hardly necessary to suggest that the first essential is light — the pitiless foe to untidiness, the inspiration to cheerful thoughts, happy tempers, and healthy bodies. A nursery should, if possible, have a southern exposure, and the windows be guarded without by an iron network, which may be painted green with gilded top, rising above the level of the child's shoulder, lest it should be seized with a fancy to stand up there and survey the world when nobody is near. Inside this network an ivy may be trained, and a few pots of hardy scarlet geranium, wall-flower, and mignonette be placed, when spring comes in. To water these plants might be the reward for a day of good behavior in the nursery.

In this day of cheap and charming wall-papers, one has but to go to the nearest shop to find a dozen suggestions, any one of which will lend the nursery a charm, requiring but few additions, to transform any room into a cheerful home for the little folks. A dado of India matting, in red and white checks, is very popular, and goes far toward furnishing the room. In one nursery, the mother has left a space, three or four feet high above the weather board, plain — for each child to contribute his own idea in decoration with pictures cut out of books and illustrated weeklies, and collected by himself.

Above, and not too high, should be hung pictures. Be liberal with these, and choice. Give your children Sir Joshua Reynolds's dainty little darlings for their companions, and engravings or plain photographs of any of the delightful little genre pictures of French, or English, or German art, that come to us so freely now. A picture with a moral will accomplish far more in early childhood than one of Æsop's fables. The first aspiration toward a career of true greatness may be struck into a boy's guileless nature as he stands gazing up at some scene which tells a talc of self-renouncing heroism.

"An open fire, and a kettle simmering upon the hob," are part of Sydney Smith's receipt for cheerfulness. His third ingredient: A paper of sugar-plums upon the mantelpiece," would have a singularly demoralizing effect, if introduced here! Hot air from a register, or from a close stove, though so unisersally condemned, is unfortunately too often used to be overlooked here; but an appliance has lately been invented and is now in successful use, at the Nursery and Child's Hospital in this city, among other places, which is most valuable for moistening the air from furnace flues on its passage into a room. Where an open hardcoal fire is used, a very simple suggestion, made a few years ago by one of the most distinguished medical authorities in New York (Dr. Lewis A. Sayre), is excellent. An ordinary kettle is set on a trivet by the open fire, and to the spout of this is affixed a tin tube, extended several feet above the level of the top of the fireplace, and ending in a wide-mouthed funnel, through which the steam pours night and day, the kettle being kept continually full of water. By means of this unpretending device, moisture is distributed throughout the room, the close and parched atmosphere of an anthracite fire is made soft and pleasant, and, in cases of croup particularly, the benefit is wonderful. So much for adherence to the dogmas of that highpriest of cheerfulness, Sydney Smith!

It has come to be regarded as indispensable to the new régime that all carpets covering the floor shall be banished in favor of "strips, and bits, and rugs." May I enter a modest protest in behalf of a nursery carpet? Not only do the children slip and trip continually upon scattered pieces of carpet, but baby, whom you have established with all his belongings upon an island of rug, persists in abandoning it for the most distant and draughty corner of the stained wood floor. Where the furniture is light, a three-ply carpet, taken away to be shaken every spring and autumn, under light, movable furniture, can easily be kept clean by a respectable nurse.

The furniture should be solid, but not heavy. Each child should have a cot or crib to himself, with a free circulation of air about it. Where it is impossible to have another room for dressing purposes, threefold screens can be used, made of stout muslin, stretched upon a frame, and covered by mother, nurse, and little ones with all that remains of the lovely Christmas picturebooks, rescued and cut out before it be too late. These pictures, Walter Crane's especially, may be pasted also in the panels of the doors, and gay lines of blue and gold and scarlet described around them. The paperhangers have taken a great deal of this pleasant labor off our hands, by introducing a wall-paper covered with the wellknown scenes from "Baby's Opera" and "Baby's Bouquet."

Curtains should be limited in quantity, and light in texture. Any pretty cretonne, blooming all over with pink roses, and green leaves, and gay birds, will delight a child, and the day coverings to the nurse's bed may be made of the same. For the children's beds there is nothing like spotless white. Another form of curtain, useful because it can be repeatedly washed throughout the season, is of plain white cotton stuff, bordered with figured Turkeyred and looped with bands of the same material. The only heading to these draperies should be a casing through which a light brass rod, fitted into sockets at each end, is run.

In regard to color, I should advocate leaving mediaeval blues and dull sage greens below stairs, in the library or boudoir given over to high art. Give the little ones the A, B, C's of decoration, with plenty of warm, honest red and

Which will show your love is true,"

In your mantel decoration, don't forget a clock It is necessary to the nurse, and valuable in every way to the children. I know of one nursery, where, at every hour and halfhour, two little whiterobed figures, with "bangs" in front, and golden curls behind, run and stand before a small, carved, wooden shrine upon the wall, to wait the coming out of the cuckoo, and, confessing their sins, beg his pardon for their naughtiness. To them, he is a veritable Mentor.

I have said nothing of books, and blocks, and dollhouses, of goldfish and canarybirds, of tiny chairs and tables, of teasets, and broken rockinghorses, because, thank God! no home where there are children is wanting in these kinds of decoration.

I have suggested the need for the little folks of light, and warmth, and beauty, during the many hours they must inevitably he away from the mother's side. I wish it were possible to obtain, also, for all of them, a glimpse of green turf and treetops, be it nothing better than a city park. As I write, there comes to me the remembrance of a little child lying very ill in a bright and sunny room, while one member of the family after another came, with soft tread and tender voice, trying to woo him from the arms of his weary mother. There he lay, with tangled curls, with his beautiful face feverflushed, and his great blue eyes asking pitifully for aid and rest from pain. At last, his father came into the room, and into that strong clasp the little sufferer went cheerfully. "Hold me up at the window, papa," he asked. "I want to see into the park." Wrapped in a shawl, he was kept in that position for an hour, gazing out at the trees, and talking at intervals about the birds, until, soothed and comforted, he fell into the calm, deep sleep so long and earnestly desired by his watchers — a slumber that ushered in recovery.

- Constance Cary Harrison.

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